Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An opening problem

England were desperately unconvincing in the one-day series against New Zealand - primarily because their top and middle order failed as a unit far too often. Successful teams contrive it so that when someone fails, someone else steps up. Too often for England has been the total collapse. However, the first warm-up game was very encouraging: the batsmen scored runs and the quick bowlers took wickets. There remains one major question, however, regarding the Test match side, and that is the nature of the opening partnership.
Successful opening partnerships are an alliance of different styles. Gooch and Atherton, Atherton and Stewart, Strauss and Trescothick, Hayden and Langer. All of these contained, essentially, a free-scoring natural player and a more gritty accumulator. The problem England are currently facing is that the 'obvious' combination - that of Strauss and Cook - is a combination of two similar styles. Both look to accumulate, both look to score square of the wicket and both are less adept at scoring straight down the ground. This both allows the bowlers to settle into a rhythm and slows down the scoring rate. The reason that Strauss has struggled over the past couple of years is that this slowing has affected him mentally, making him try and force the pace in a way that isn't his natural game.
So, drop Strauss altogether and play Vaughan as an opener? Vaughan is better as an opener, and plays the sort of free, stylish game that would benefit Cook. But Strauss is an undoubtedly classy performer, solid against pace, improved against spin and with an admirable temperament. He is also the natural successor to Vaughan as skipper - a job he performed admirably at home in 2006. But Cook is also incredibly talented, and a star of the future. It's a tricky one for the selectors, and it might be worth asking if Strauss is prepared to attempt to turn into a Graham Thorpe type of middle order player. If not, he needs to find another gear in his batting in the early stages, or he risks losing the selectors' confidence permanently.



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